Travellers who need a mechanical or electric wheelchair to get around may encounter various barriers when travelling by train – inaccessible trainsets, platforms or station buildings. The situation is also complicated by the large number of carriers with different transport conditions. However, it is possible to find out a lot of information on the internet, book transport in advance and reduce or eliminate some of the obstacles before the journey. How to do this?
Not all stations and platforms in the Czech Republic are barrier-free, i.e. accessible for people with mobility limitations. Some trains are equipped with an integrated platform, sometimes it is necessary to provide a manual (mobile station) platform, but even these options cannot be used at all stations and platforms. If necessary, it is possible to ask the carrier’s staff for assistance at the station or for boarding the train.
Basic information about services for wheelchair users can usually be found on the carrier’s website. “You can usually find information about travel arrangements, conditions of transport, accessibility of stations and trainsets, as well as links to find a specific connection,” says Eduarda Hekšová, director of the consumer organisation dTest, adding: “Connections allowing the transport of wheelchair users are marked with pictograms in the timetables, including information about the carriage being equipped with a lifting platform.”
When planning your journey, you need to take into account whether you need assistance to board the train, especially if it involves the addition of a mobile platform. This service must be ordered from ČD at least 24 hours in advance. The request for a car with a platform must be made at least 48 hours before the planned journey.
If you do not require assistance, a wheelchair accessible car is included on the train, and the boarding and alighting stations are accessible, you do not need to report the transport. However, there may be emergency situations during transport where an alternative solution or assistance will not be provided for a disabled passenger.
Basic requirements also apply to the wheelchairs being transported. “As a rule, the wheelchair must be equipped with a handbrake. The carrier may set a weight limit for the trolley with user, which is usually 300 to 350 kilograms. On trains not adapted for movement with a trolley, the width of the trolley may be limited to a maximum of 60 centimetres,” explains Eduarda Hekšová.
Where to find information? The specific conditions for transporting wheelchair users are set by each train operator. Clear and detailed information can be found, for example, on the website of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities.
As far as assistance at the station or help with boarding the train is concerned, it is always necessary to check with the respective carrier and order the service in advance. When travelling with more than one train carrier, it is possible to use the One ticket portal to request assistance and arrange transport.
If there is a problem during the course of a journey, it is advisable to inform the staff and then the carrier’s head office. As a last resort, a complaint can be made to the Ministry of Transport.
What is the outlook for the future? “When building or reconstructing a station, it is necessary to comply with legal regulations that ensure the possibility of using a boarding platform. At the same time, all carriers must have competent staff to provide assistance on board the train. These measures should gradually lead to more accessible train services. Barrier-free stations and trains ensure the use not only of wheelchair users, but also of families with children and seniors,” concludes Eduarda Hekšová.